The Future of Burning Man – Millenial Ideates

Whether it’s pronounced “Idea-ate” or “I-de-ate” or “I-di-ot”, it seems like this camp, new to Burning Man in 2012 and predominantly made up of people who’d never even been to Burning Man before, is now to be the shining model for Burning Man in the future. According to the Peninsula Press:

Bear Kittay, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and musician, has taken the lead in organizing meetings for up-and-coming Bay Area start-up types with Larry Harvey, the founder and director of Burning Man, and Goodell. Kittay is also helping figure out how to spread the project’s 10 principles to other parts of the world.

bearGoodell calls Kittay their “hyper-connector.” His resume includes being the co-founder of a company called Organizer, which created a clipboard-like mobile platform for use during political campaigns, and a partner (and designated “social alchemist”) in the Avalon Hot Springs eco-resort north of Napa Valley, which used to provide some of the top wine tours in the area.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Kittay organized a retreat at Avalon. He invited Harvey, Goodell and about a dozen others, including Luke Nosek, one of the founders of PayPal, and Evan Steiner, program manager of the collaboration facilitator Hub Bay Area. As Kittay put it, the retreat “set off epiphanies for many of us.”

Others prominent in discussions about the project’s future include James Hanusa, CEO of Urban Innovation Exchange in San Francisco, and Edward Zaydelman, co-founder of Puerta a la Vida, a wellness resort in Costa Rica.

There are longstanding cultural ties between Burning Man and Silicon Valley. It is no secret that Google’s founders are avid “burners,” with entire walls at the company’s Mountain View campus covered in photos from the festival. And the computer and technology industries are often the most represented among the professions of festival participants, according to the Black Rock City Census, which conducts an annual survey at Burning Man.

But the Avalon retreat initiated an active conversation between the two cultures and two generations of burners — baby boomers and millennials.

Just what we need – a bunch of crusty old hippies, teaming up with bright shiny dewey eyed millenials who don’t know the first thing about desert survival. And ganging up on the ravers, no doubt.

When I first went to Burning Man, the idea of “theme camps” was to be friendly to other Burners, invite the neighbors  over to your place and meet them. Gift them stuff, free drinks, food, smokes, whatever. Ideate provided a wall of RVs, a private chef, and an area for workshops buried between shipping containers that was not particularly welcoming or visible to the public. The workshops were not promoted in the Burning Man guide, so unless you were actually in the camp, you probably didn’t realize they were going on. The shipping container/3d scanner/drone experiment from Reallocate was cool to see, but only a very, very few people actually got scanned. And most of them had to pay for the privilege, via the project’s Kickstarter page. Apparently Sergey Brin from Google did swing past at one point, showing off his new Google Goggles. But it’s not exactly a contribution to the party on the level of a Trojan Horse or exploding Oil Platform or Opulent Temple.

To describe Ideate as an “Innovation Camp”, would suggest that some form of innovation came out of it. It’s all very vague on the details though, of what exactly were the ideas that were discussed and how the BMOrg and their new boss intend to implement them in 2013 and beyond.

Those talks continued and led to the formation of the IDEATE innovation camp, which participated in this summer’s festival. Each camp has a different focus, such as dance, meditation and clothing swaps. IDEATE differed from typical camps, as it operated with an unprecedented mission: to be “an [ideas] incubator in the center of Burning Man,” according to Kittay.

Kittay said IDEATE brought together bright minds to figure out how to offer the tools of Burning Man culture, including collaboration, sustainability and inclusion, to start-up projects around the world.

Burning Man founders paid special attention to IDEATE, which was given a block of tickets even though the idea emerged long after tickets were sold out. Goodell placed the camp close to First Camp, where the founders make their desert home each year.

Goodell said her thought was, “We should take all this brain power around us in San Francisco—dot-com and entrepreneurs…[who] care about Burning Man, and let’s get them all together…and see whether anything could come of it.” 

OK…so what are these great ideas then? Is it to put ticket prices up to $650? Or maybe to go back and count the gate again? Perhaps all these entrepreneurs have been to Burning Man before, so that their opinions would be somewhat relevant? Alas, no…

The majority of the 210 people who camped at IDEATE were new to Burning Man and were young entrepreneurs from companies such as TED, a nonprofit committed to spreading worthwhile ideas; Summit, which hosts an annual four-day event for 1,000 of the world’s leading change makers; and Singularity University, which seeks to educate a new generation of leaders in technologies that will exponentially advance human capability in years to come.

Three salons were held throughout the week to formally discuss the future of Burning Man, and many of IDEATE’s members attended. But Tim West, a chef/entrepreneur who cooked meals for IDEATE during the festival, said it wasn’t just a lot of talk. “IDEATE, first and foremost, was to create that space to have those conversations, but secondly, to create systems that help people take ideas to reality,” he said.

Although the chef says it wasn’t all talk, Maid Marian has some reservations.

Goodell issued a caveat concerning IDEATE and the millennial entrepreneurs as a group: They will be given more influence in the organization only if they do something with all their ideas. They need to maintain momentum and prove themselves as able to make it happen, rather than just talk about it, she said.

Bear, who in one article manages the amazing feat of having at least 6 different jobs within the Burning Man sphere – Social Alchemist, Entrepreneur, Musician, Hyper-Connector, Pied Piper, and API – gets to enjoy cultural trips to Turkey with Larry and Marian, but isn’t actually on the payroll

Larry Harvey is in his sixties; Goodell just turned 50. She said the founders should look to hire young people, and young people should step up and “infiltrate the organization and be ready to take things over…and change the world.”

Goodell described Kittay as “not unlike Larry.” She called them both “pied pipers,” saying that, although neither is likely to be “the first one to hammer up a tent stake,” they both “can get really enthusiastic around ideas, and then people want to gather around and help.” Kittay called himself an “API” for Burning Man: an application programming interface, or an application that helps data communicate across different software. Currently, he is a volunteer for the organization, but Goodell expressed her desire to compensate him if he keeps up all the work.

…After the desert festival, which is held from late August to early September, Kittay traveled with Harvey and Goodell to Turkey, where they considered ancient history and its ties to modern life and talked about ways to make global expansion a reality.

There are two kinds of people in this world. People who Get Shit Done, and everybody else. History can be the guide as to what, if anything, gets done as a result of this “Ideas Incubator”. I haven’t met too many Millenials yet that can GSD – an essential skill for Burners.

Meanwhile, Burning Man’s founders have their eyes on a new prize – $7 million to purchase some land in the desert with a man-made geyser on it. After purchasing the land, they will then raise further funds to develop it along “Burning Man Principles”. During this year’s Burn, they took many of the entrepreneurs from Ideate and First Camp, out from Burning Man on bus excursions to the site to get naked in the hot springs and consider their pitch. It’s not clear yet how gifting, decommodification and real estate development will all combine into a magical new thing that generates payback for investors, but a more permanent Burning Man site – perhaps with less significant security requirements – would be welcome.

Will Roger, one of the six Burning Man Project owners, is heading up the development of a new property called Fly Ranch, which is designed to serve as an art park and idea incubator, particularly for the development of green technology.

Fly Ranch is a 4,000-acre site with natural geysers about 10 miles from the spot in the Black Rock Desert where the festival is held each year. Plans for the property include a conference center, a camping ground and the largest open-air art gallery and sculpture park in the world. Roger called it a model for cultural centers of the future “that we could use to have more of an influence in the culture of the world.

A Nevada family currently owns the Fly Ranch property, and the Burning Man organization is trying to raise the $7 million needed to purchase it. They are close to reaching their goal, Roger said.

The Fly Ranch property represents another shift in Burning Man as the world knows it. Traditionally the project has been “below the radar,” said Kittay. But now is the time that Burning Man is ready to reveal itself as more than just “electronic, dubstep, naked—whatever associations that people have had superficially with it, and move into much more the space of what it truly is at its core,” he said. That core, according to Kittay, is built around “the philosophical principles of collaboration and of incubating human culture and community and experience.

Gerlach, Nevada…the center of the cultural world? If you build it, they will come…

38 comments on “The Future of Burning Man – Millenial Ideates

  1. Pingback: BREAKING: Burning Man In Latest WikiLeaks Data Dump [Update] | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. What is apparent is that the BOrg has a lot of idle hands. With their overhead and profit increasing from less than $1 million to over $20 million, they are looking for things to do. Burning Man should not be your day job – it has to be something special and apart.

    Aside from that, these $20 million/year people are NOT who create the NV burn, and don’t know what creates the magic. They just know how to be professional spectators. Seriously: have you been to a theme camp, or experienced an art car or playa art where these proselytizers had a major direct hand in making the experience. This is like having Ronald McDonald do a TED talk on making quality fast food.

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  3. Bear Kittay and the like are the end of burning man and the beginning of Coachella VIP camping. Entitled, arrogant twats who are ushering in the sherpa era, attracting lazy money instead of inspired artists.
    He gives the organization and the burning man legacy a bad name. With his face on the the organization, as it is quite literally in the international circuit, I am embarrassed to be associated with bmorg.

    Liked by 1 person

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  19. I knew Bear Kittay when he was young and I have run into him in SF. He is a talker…He is trying to capitalize on other peoples ideas. His idea is to take other people’s ideas and organize others around them rather than come up with something amazing on his own.

    People with great ideas protect them and do not discuss them with a whole camp of people at Burningman. Driven individuals produce results – elitist talk groups are for people who don’t have ideas of their own. The Burningman principles are already in place in modern business as clearly illustrated by shift to embrace the “triple bottom line” & “green revolution”.

    Regarding the Google comment – yes some people who work there do go to Burningman – It is a rich man’s festival…. What do they contribute beside green house gas from their generators? These are the guys in high end RV’s with private chefs in turn key operations.

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  20. Just to provide a slightly different viewpoint, I don’t think it is fair to categorize ALL “millenials” this way. During the 2012 event, one evening I meandered across a delightful “outlier” bar in a camp set up at 5:15 between G and H. Coming from Hair of the Dog where I was camping (big long-standing bar tradition at HOTD), this was just a little “neighborhood corner” spot designed to entertain maybe 10 or 20 people at a time, very intimate and inviting. I wanted to quench my thirst so I stopped and walked in. I immediately was welcomed by a group of 5 or 6 young people (I am in my early 60s) who set up a drink for me and started talking to me about my burn. I came to find out that a couple of these “millenials” had been to Burning Man for their FIRST event in 2011 and had gone back to Atlanta and convinced a bunch of their friends that Burning Man was THE PLACE TO BE and that they had to have their own theme camp in 2012. 8 of them banded together and designed an amazingly clever construction that was strong but very lightweight (they had to truck it almost 3000 miles and so weight was critical!) easy to erect and very VERY inviting. Lots of LED lighting, great wall coverings, terrific signage. They had NO PLACEMENT, NO FREE TICKETS FROM THE BORG, no nothing except their ingenuity and creativity and their desire to PARTICIPATE. While we were talking about this, they asked where I was from and when I said HOTD, one of them got all excited and said “Wow, last year, I spent a lot of time at HOTD and I was IN AWE of what you guys had there… I kept thinking, if we worked at this, maybe someday after a few years WE could have a camp as cool as HOTD!” I just sat there smiling to myself and realizing that HERE WERE A BUNCH OF MILLENIALS WHO TOTALLY “GOT IT”! No one had to put them near First Camp, or give them freebies. They didn’t exclude ANYONE (not even an old 60+ fart who clearly didn’t have that much in common with them other than this desire to be part of the community, which of course in the end is THE most important thing!) No RV wagon circles, no private retreats. This was radical inclusion and radical self-reliance coupled with amazing creativity at its best. I wished them luck and went on my way, promising that I would watch these “youngsters” at future BM events because it is the kids like these and NOT the Bear Kittays who are galavanting around the world with Larry Harvey but achieving little who will be the future of BM.

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  21. @Will, right the fuck on! I read the article about IDEATE and all I could imagine was the kind of drivel you hear at a pretentious upscale dinner party. When people start to think of themselves as what is important (rather than what they create or do), they lead themselves into this self-congratulating world where they are all “awesome” and the rest of us are ignored, usually to their own detriment. This is as true of Burning Man as it is of the Kardashians (a family that has managed to parlay their own pretensions of fame into the fame they pretend to).

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  24. “A camel is just a horse designed by a committee” I could not agree more with the previous comment, our wonderful experiment in the desert has lost sight of what made Burning Man great, last year was a case in point. It has become basically a dance club moved to the desert, the invention, and art have all but disappeared, and now this …… These are the times that try true Burners souls, unless there is a return to the roots of the event, I fear all will be lost. Veterans, like myself, of many years are feeling disenfranchised. Without the “crusty old hippies” there is no leadership, no tradition, and that is a tragedy.

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  25. “There are two kinds of people in this world. People who Get Shit Done, and everybody else. ”

    Well said. As a two-time entrepreneur (first company sold for ~$200 million, second on its way) I can say that great ideas never come from these kind of “incubators”. Most great ideas come from INDIVIDUALS, not groups. People with worthwhile ideas are too busy executing to spend time in silly groups and committees devoted towards “ideas”. In my experience these groups are almost exclusively attended by wannabes who love to talk about ideas, but don’t actually have any.

    My eyes always roll when people spend enormous amounts of energy trying to create idea-generating organizations. Even worse is when they try to get all exclusive. LOL. Build the largest flame cannon in human history or SHUT THE FUCK UP! 🙂

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